With today’s emphasis on safety and fuel economy, the materials used in a car’s assembly play a vital role in the success or failure of the overall design. Audi has a long history of building solid, innovative cars. So it should come as no surprise to see the folks from Ingolstadt introduce the first all-aluminum luxury sedan, this A8. Now, many companies have used lightweight alloys in the past, mostly on body panels and engine components. So is the A8 too much of a good thing?
Not if you’re looking for something truly unique in a high-end luxury sedan. Unlike every other sedan in the world, the Audi A8 is built on an aluminum space frame rather than a conventional steel unibody.It uses a combination of cast and extruded sections to produce a platform that’s 40 percent lighter and stiffer than steel. And aluminum is also used for the A8’s multi-link suspension, and in the all-aluminum 32-valve V-8. In front-drive A8s, it displaces 3.7-liters, making 230 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque.
All-wheel-drive Quattro models, like our test car, pack a larger 4.2-liter unit that pumps out 300-horses and 295 pound-feet of torque. While both engines feed power through a standard 5-speed automatic transmission.And it’s all wrapped in elegant, superbly fitted, aluminum body panels. The result is a full-size luxury sedan that weighs hundreds of pounds less than competitors.
But the interesting features aren’t all aluminum. Windshield materials reduce noise and block 99 percent of all UV radiation. While the sunroof’s optional solar panel powers fresh air circulation through the interior when parked in hot weather.
That interior is pure luxury, too. The wide, European-looking dash features tasteful, burled walnut trim. Though its most significant features are the air bags found not only in the dash but in all outboard passenger seats. The firm, supportive seats are cloaked in smooth Nappa leather, and offer 14-way power adjustments, to complement the power tilt and telescope features of the optional heated steering wheel.
Gauges are Audi’s typically large analog units, while the switchgear for the excellent Bose cassette stereo and dual automatic climate controls look confusing but aren’t. And, so you don’t forget where you are, the door handles and shift lever surround are also carved from aluminum.
Our car’s rear seating was as impressive as the front, with adult-size head and leg room, as well as options like seat heaters, power lumbar and head rest adjustments, and retractable sunshades for the side and rear windows. Matching the spacious interior is a huge 18-cubic foot trunk, one of the biggest available.
And this is all before you drive the car! But it’s an experience that is worth waiting for. With its stiff, ultra-light chassis, crisp suspension and all-wheel-drive traction, the A8 is an absolute joy on any road and in any weather.
The suspension is firm, but soaks up bumps exceptionally well and gives the car a feel that’s more sport sedan than luxo-flagship. While the muscular engine, with its very European, mid-to-high end power band, provides superb highway passing power.
On the track, the 4.2 Quattro sprints to 60 in only 6.4 seconds, and runs the quarter mile in 14.8 seconds at 96 miles per hour. Slow shifting and a thin low end mean that it’s no street racer. But the silky smooth feel and strong top-end shame its competitors.
As does the handling, which is sportier than any other two-ton luxury machine on the market. Even our sometimes hair-raising emergency test failed to loosen the big Quattro’s limpet-like grip. Only in raw braking numbers did the A8 fail to beat its competitors. Stops averaged a fine 116 feet from 60 miles per hour, though stability and feel from the four big anti-lock equipped discs were very assuring.
If it seems like we’re raving about the A8, it’s because we are! This is an Audi like no Audi before it and one of the best luxury cars in years, but not one easy to obtain. Audi is only importing 2,500 A8s this year. And the price starts at a check book stretching $56,900 for the front-drive 3.7-liter version. Move up to our 4.2 Quattro, and the base leaps to $64,500, with full options pushing it to $68,700.
That is a lot of money. But then the Audi A8 is one incredible car! One of our staff members even went so far as to say that it “has the feel that an S-Class Benz should have.”
But is the Audi A8’s high priced preponderance of features, technology and lightweight alloy too much of a good thing? Well, that depends on your point of view. What’s certain is that with the A8 Audi has taken a bold step into the very top ranks of luxury car makers, offering buyers new levels of performance, comfort and sophistication, and you can never get too much of that.
Engine: 4.2-Liter, Dohc, 32-valve V-8
Torque: 295 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.4 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.8 Seconds @ 96 MPH
60-0 MPH: 116 Feet